There is a story about two monks walking along the road when they come to a river. A beautiful woman is standing there. She can’t figure out how to continue her journey. So one of the monks picks her up in his arms—something he was absolutely forbidden to do, for touching a woman was against his vows—and he carries her across to the other side. Then, all parties continued on their journey.
After a few hours, the second monk was unable to remain silent about this misconduct. He blurts out, “How could you pick up that woman? It was against the rules!” The first monk replied, “Are you still carrying her around? I put her down hours ago.”
This is an instructive tale about two different approaches to spirituality. One can be mastered by a tightly controlled list of “dos and don’ts,” or one can move with the spirit. While the latter is not without its pitfalls, the former is certainly rife with peril. Managing our spiritual lists becomes a heavy, taxing burden.
Eugene Peterson, in his paraphrase of the Bible called “The Message,” gets right at this by casting new light on Jesus’ words from Matthew 11: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. You’ll recover your life…Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.”
The “unforced rhythms of grace.” I don’t think there is a more incomparable phrase, and nothing any higher to which anyone could aspire: to express the life of faith with freedom, harmony, and loving kindness. What liberation; and I’m speaking not simply of Peterson’s translation but the Christ-infused spirit behind the words.
For the way of Jesus is indeed effusive and free-flowing. Nothing about it is coercive, heavy, or manipulative. Jesus does not require the imposition of shame, false guilt, “sacred” extortion, or browbeating to keep people on the path. Maybe that is why “rhythm” is such an appropriate word; because following Jesus is much more like dancing than it is marching.
Do you want to live the free and gracious life? Partner with Jesus. Move with him. Stay in step with him. When the music of mercy plays, follow his lead, and you’ll find yourself enjoying faith rather than enduring it. Following Jesus leads to recovery, not religion; to empowerment, not exhaustion; it leads to the laying down of our burdens. It leads to grace.
Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.